Curriculum initiative by British Muslims

On the initiative of the Islamic scholar Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, British Muslims have introduced an “anti-terror curriculum” designed to supply Muslim clerics with arguments against the misuse of theological arguments by terrorist organisations such as IS. By Stefan Weidner

In principle, one can only welcome the fact that Muslims’ reactions to the terrorist misinterpretation of religion are becoming more and more sophisticated and explicit – with every attack, as it were.

They can achieve a variety of goals at once here. For one, they show resistance to attempts made to equate Islam with terrorism, an attitude that is fuelled just as much by notorious enemies of Islam as it is by political events, with the self-proclaimed “Islamic State in Syria and Iraq” at the forefront. Secondly, they are repudiating the allegation that Muslims are not distancing themselves sufficiently from terrorism. This is important, even if this insinuation is nearly always the product of ignorance, for example of the debates being waged in Arabic, and is partly based on plain distortion.

The initiative for a Muslim curriculum against terrorism is, however, not only geared toward appeasing Islam-critical observers; it is also an attempt to defeat with their own arguments those who espouse an aggressive and narrow-minded understanding of religion. The arguments against terrorism are derived here theologically from the religion itself and not, as so often is the case, from common sense, which is unfortunately in short supply among those who look to the religion to justify violence.

Of course, many scholars of Islam have tried to do this in the past. However, they have never before worked out such a systematic plan for a theological fight against terrorism and undertaken such great efforts to publicise it in the world press. That this has not yet been attempted can be explained by the religious diversity and local fragmentation of Islam, rather than assuming that Islam offers no arguments against violence.

IS supporters in Syria (photo: DW)

IS supporters in Syria. “We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise,” writes Stefan Weidner

No choice anymore

Such an initiative takes to its logical conclusion the fact that the Muslims have no choice anymore but to do the same thing with good arguments that the preachers of hate and violence are trying to do with bad ones, namely to reach a broad spectrum of Muslims all over the world. This is admittedly a Herculean task, but it just might lead – if it succeeds – to the kind of Islam that believers around the world are longing to see: a religion whose global standards would be supported by undisputed, universal and humane principles.

We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise. In this respect, the curriculum initiative could indeed provide a remedy. However, it also reinforces the misleading notion that “terror tourism” really does have primarily religious and cultural motives.

This form of culturalisation, as one might call it, hides other, more likely reasons for the suicidal decampment to the war zone, namely the social, political and economic marginalisation of many immigrants. And it could be, therefore, that the initiative seeks more to meet the expectations of Western policymakers and suspicious non-Muslim observers than to fulfil the needs of the Muslims concerned.

Seen in this light, the initiative could even end up having the opposite effect to what it purports to achieve. By chiming in with the chorus of those who interpret the phenomenon of Muslim terrorism as a problem with the religion, it relieves neo-liberal policymakers of their responsibility for the poverty and neglect of wide swathes of the population, including, of course, the converts looking to compensate for the lack of fulfilment and prospects in their lives in West by fighting for Islamic State, where they can earn the recognition they are denied in the West, even if they have to pay for it with their lives.

David Cameron (photo: Reuters/O. Scarff)

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Says Weidner: “That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in taking part in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not as open as we would like to believe.”

Model Muslims and marginalised migrants

Finally, Western societies need to ask themselves some probing questions. What good is it if Muslims distance themselves from IS and come up with good arguments against radicalisation as long as the West still does its most lucrative business with countries that have supported this very radicalisation for decades and to this day have in many ways more in common with the social ideology of IS than they do with the Western nations? We are talking here about Saudi Arabia and other states on the Persian Gulf that may have neo-liberal economies but are, in political terms, decidedly anti-democratic.

A second question we must ask ourselves – and one that is perhaps even more important – is to what extent Western democracies are really willing to offer people from different backgrounds and cultures, besides a few very well-integrated model Muslims (and even they can be found above all in the purely symbolic worlds of culture and the media, but not in the crucial realms of business and politics) an equal opportunity and to show them respect and appreciation.

That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in participating in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not really as open as we like to believe.

And it could soon prove to be the case – to the horror of conservative politicians in particular – that, despite the inherent risk of specific groups sealing themselves off, multiculturalism was a comparatively inexpensive solution to integration issues – at any rate compared to the aspiration to grant immigrants, no matter what their origin, a genuine opportunity in accordance with their abilities and desires and to provide the requisite, government-funded structures for this purpose.

Stefan Weidner

Moderate Muslims Counter ISIS Propaganda With Their Own Media Strategy

 

U.S. officials are concerned about the recruiting efforts of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, also known as ISIS, as the group has stepped up its online outreach.

One team in southwestern Indiana who opposes the radical Islamist group is taking to the Web to reclaim the message of Islam.

Dozens of four-minute Web episodes, targeting young people with questions about Islam and its relationship to violence, are being released by Reclamation Studios.

In one episode, Zac Parsons is walking side by side with Imam Omar Atia on a sunny day in Evansville, Ind., asking him a question about Islam: “You’re a Muslim guy, a peaceful guy, and yet, you know, we see all this stuff in the news all the time about, you know, terrorism and violence and killing, you know, in the name of Islam — which is supposed to be a religion of peace. How is it that for them it’s not peaceful, but for you it is?”

“It’s not even left for question,” Atia says. “Unjust killing is completely forbidden.”

The video “Does Islam Encourage Violence?” is simply an interaction between Parsons and Atia, the leader of the Islamic Society of Evansville.

Atia, co-founder of Reclamation Studios’ initiative, wants to try to dispel the image that Islam is a foreign religion that forces believers to choose between nation and faith.

“There’s still this identity crisis that a lot of Muslim-Americans live, unfortunately,” Atia says, “because right now, still, the concept that Islam is a foreign faith to America.”

Parsons, a digital marketer, says these videos try to be engaging enough to reach younger viewers.

“Unfortunately, ISIS is doing a great job of creating that really compelling ‘this is something you can do to change the world,’ ” he says, “and we hope that we’re able to use some of those same ideas and technology to say, ‘No, this is actually what the religion of Islam teaches.’ ”

Nour Shams, who works on Reclamation Studios’ website from Egypt, says it’s important to get this information across as directly as possible.

“They can ask us questions, we can do consultations, we can give them further answers for any questions that they have,” she says. “We can even host people and just have everything transparent in front of the camera, and listen to people and answer their questions.”

Richard Maass, who researches international security at the University of Evansville, says the Islamic State has been successful at targeting isolated people who have little or no knowledge of Islam.

“So the more initiatives like this one that openly refute ISIS ideology, especially online — and especially through live communications with people online — the more difficult it will be for ISIS to monopolize the perceptions of those vulnerable individuals,” he says.

There are now more than a dozen people working on this project; the goal is to produce 70 Web episodes, all in an effort to help counter what they see as misinformation about Islam.

Stop Saying “Moderate Muslims.” You’re Only Empowering Islamophobes.

June 25, 2014

Last week’s Heritage Foundation panel on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi was bound to be an ugly affair, what with the presence of panelist Brigitte Gabriel, a self-described “terrorism analyst” with a laundry list of offensive statements about Islam and Arabs. Sure enough, when attendee Saba Ahmed, an American University law school student, explained that not all Muslims are terrorists, Gabriel retorted that “the peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the way that peaceful Germans were irrelevant during the Holocaust.

That prompted much hand-wringing, primarily on cable news, about the supposed silence of “moderate Muslims” in this supposed age of Islamist extremism. What no one on either side of the debate questioned, though, was the legitimacy of the phrase “moderate Muslims” itself.

The idea of a “moderate Islam” or “moderate Muslim” is intellectually lazy because it carves the world up into two camps: the “good” Muslims and the “bad” Muslims, as Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani hasnoted. (Saba Ahmed herself used the word “bad” in her remarks at the Heritage panel.) Until proven good, or in this case “moderate,” all Muslims are perceived as “bad,” or potentially extreme. We certainly don’t spend our time searching out “moderate” Christians or Jews, but rather reckon that the Westboro Baptists, Jewish Defense League, and others are aberrations. And sure, Muslims give us plenty of bad examples, but it’s our own fault if we allow those examples to constipate our ability to perform basic logic.

In order to arrive at a more peaceful and equitable place in our society, we must divorce ourselves from the notion that we are authorities on the faith traditions of others and as such are entitled to prescribe how they must interpret them in order to be welcomed. The diversity within religious traditions is just as important to the pluralistic fabric of America as the diversity of religious traditions. Carving up our Muslim compatriots into categories that fit our idea of what they should be isn’t going to get us there.

We Need More Moderate Muslims in Politics

13 October 2010

Following the success of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in the recent Viennese elections, Erich Kocina calls on Austrian Muslims to become more involved in Austrian politics. Nonetheless, he warns that this participation must not be seen as encouraging Turkish or Muslim individuals to represent exclusively Turkish or Muslim interests, as suggested by the president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Anas Schakfeh. Headscarf-wearing conservative candidates do have a right to be part of the political process; however, that which is currently lacking is more secular candidates, who should and be perceived as Austrians first, and as Muslims second, and represent interests across the political spectrum.

Banned the Access to a Nursery School to a Woman Wearing the Burqa

September 21, 2010

In the village of Sonnino (Latina, Lazio); a nursery school attempted to ban a woman, who is married to an imam, donning the burqa after several complaints were made by other parents. The parents accused that the Muslim woman’s burqa frightened their children attending the nursery. An official meeting was held on the matter; where the village mayor, the nursery managers and the husband of the woman came to the compromise that the woman would remove the face veil upon entering the building. The imam committed himself to respecting the outcomes of the meeting and reassured the community of the need and importance for Muslims to integrate within Italian society.
Reactions to the incident were mixed. A group of local women contested the decision and showed their solidarity with the veiled Muslim woman by wearing burqas publically. Meanwhile the president of the association for “Moderate Muslims;” criticized the decision by suggesting that, the burqa should be completely banned since it is not an Islamic precept. An initiative to promote greater cultural integration has been launched in public schools.

Moderate Muslims Seek Help From The Dalai Lama

SAN FRANCISCO – Prominent Muslim dignitaries on Saturday met for the first time with the world’s most influential Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, enlisting his help in quelling fanatical ideologies within Islamic communities and improving the faith’s declining image in the West. The summit was a measure of the desperate concern among moderate Muslim leaders and scholars about religious extremism and increasingly negative views of their faith arising from Western concerns about terrorism. Indeed, Islam traditionally has not recognized Buddhism. “The main issue of this conference is to provide a platform to teach that there is no room today to say or invest in anything but love,” said Imam Mehdi Khorasani of Marin County, who had extended the invitation to the Dalai Lama. “We are happy and grateful for His Holiness’ decision to lend his energy to this cause.” Appearing comfortable and jovial in his maroon and saffron robe before a crowd of about 600, the Dalai Lama, 71, was true to his image as one of the world’s most avid advocates for peace. “Some people have an impression that Islam is militant,” he said, seated in lotus position on a center-stage baronial chair at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel. “I think that is totally wrong. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and it carries, basically, a message of love and compassion.” He pointed to his homeland of Tibet as an example of a place where Buddhists and Muslims have existed together in peace for centuries. In an interview earlier, the Nobel laureate and religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism said, “Promoting the genuine message of Islam and the proper impression of the Muslim world – that is my hope. “Some of my Muslim friends have told me that those people who claim to be Muslims, if they create bloodshed, that is not genuine Islam,” he said. “Those few mischievous ones do not represent the whole Muslim community.” Some of those in attendance suggested that the open display of mutual support might not play well with more extreme members of either Islam or Buddhism. “It’s a brave thing for imams to reach out to the Dalai Lama – it’s likely to be seen in some circles as an act of weakness and undignified of their own traditions,” said Caner Dagli, assistant professor of religion at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. “The Dalai Lama is also putting himself out on a limb by standing with his Muslim brothers and sisters,” he said. “But I’m happy about all that. It’s right that they should be allies.” One difference is that although the Dalai Lama holds an unquestioned position as spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, Islam has no similar central authority uniting its members. Hence, Muslims around the globe interpret the faith quite differently and are more divided among themselves. That the meeting came together at all was remarkable, coming near the date of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, as well as during Passover and Easter weekend. It also followed the release last week of the recorded sounds of struggle and panic when Sept. 11 hijackers took control of United Airlines Flight 93 and screamed, “Allah is the greatest,” as the plane went down. But the Dalai Lama, who normally books his appearances seven years in advance, and the Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world broke their holiday commitments to attend the hastily organized event. “This meeting had to happen,” said Dan Kranzler, a philanthropist and one of the gathering’s sponsors. “The 90% of the Muslim world that is moderate and peace-loving wants to overcome the radical ideologies of the rest,” said Kranzler, who is Jewish but refers to himself as a “universalist.” “If there is anyone in the world who can cheat the odds and make that happen it’s the Dalai Lama.” Organizers called it an extraordinary convergence. Essentially, Muslim leaders were seeking the Dalai Lama’s rock-star status, broad appeal and skills as a neutral conciliator in dealing with divisiveness within their faith, deepened by worldwide media attention. Even moderate Muslims, who make up most believers, are not united enough to impose their visions of peace and tolerance on those who are intolerant or promote violence. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, founder of the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, which is dedicated to reviving the sciences of classical Islam, pointed out another reason for wanting the Dalai Lama on their side. “Buddhism gets the best press of any religion in the world,” he said. “Islam gets the worst press because it’s associated with war and belligerence. “When a recent Gallup Poll asked Americans what they respected about Islam, 38% answered not a thing, and 12 % said they weren’t sure,” he said. “Yet one-fifth of humanity is Muslim. “So we are delighted that the Dalai Lama wants to understand how we view this situation and assess what his own community can do to alleviate the problems,” he said. Under tight security, the Dalai Lama initially met privately with 40 leaders, including Mahmud Kilic, a professor of Sufism and president of the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul; Sayyid M. Syeed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest umbrella organization of Islamic centers in the United States; and Ahmad Al-Hashimi, president of the Ihsan Muslim Heritage Society of Ontario, Canada. One proposal that emerged from the discussions was a possible visit by the Dalai Lama to Saudi Arabia. Later, on stage, he was flanked by religious leaders and scholars including Huston Smith, emeritus professor of religion at UC Berkeley; Thomas Cleary, a Harvard professor whose interpretation of the ancient Chinese “Art of War” became a bestseller; and Robert Thurman, a Columbia University professor known as the Billy Graham of Buddhism. In an interview, Smith said the meeting was in direct response to the violent exploitation of one of the great traditions. “The world is in flames. We are at war with Islam,” he said. “The Muslim leaders here wanted to talk to the Dalai Lama about what they could do to persuade terrorists that their terrorism only increases terrorism.” Though Muslim leaders called for the gathering, it was organized and funded by a coalition that included film producer Steven Reuther and Kranzler, who made his fortune in the computer software industry. In an effort to make Muslim guests feel as comfortable as possible in their daily prayers, the organizing team determined the exact direction of Mecca from the Nob Hill hotel – 15 degrees east of north. Receptions were alcohol-free and vegetarian, in keeping with practices of Islam and Buddhism. Dozens of participants wore white scarfs that had been draped around their necks by the Dalai Lama in private sessions.